SPOKANE An alternative to a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is becoming a more popular remedy for sleep apnea.

Spokane resident Debbie Bleeker was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. She was scheduled to get a CPAP breathing machine to treat it when she went to the dentist and learned about another treatment option: a dental appliance fitted to her mouth, designed to keep her airway open when she sleeps.

For Bleeker, who is mildly claustrophobic, it sounded like a better option. Now, months later, her sleep apnea is gone and she s seeing a chain of health benefits.

I get up early, I m usually busy all day, Bleeker said. I hardly ever nap anymore. My blood pressure is better. I ve cut my medicine in half and lost a little bit of weight and I just feel a lot better.

Aspen Sleep Center Medical Director, Dr. Michael Coats, said the mandibular repositioning dental appliances are getting more popular. Before, the idea of a breathing machine may have discouraged people from coming forward to get their sleep apnea diagnosed.

I think there s lots of folks that are more willing to seek treatment and evaluation if they realize they have options in regards to their treatment, Coats said.

Bleeker s dentist, Dr. Robb Heinrich, said it made sense to incorporate the dental devices into his business. The majority of the people he fits with an appliance come in as recommendations from their sleep doctors, like Dr. Coats.

What we re finding is the compliance rates for the oral appliances is higher, Heinrich said. The efficacy or the success rate of the oral appliance may be lower, although, if the patient is not wearing a CPAP at all, the next best thing can be an oral appliance to help them.

Thursday is Sleep Apnea Awareness Day.

If you think you might suffer from sleep apnea, the doctors recommend you start with a sleep evaluation. From there, they can set up a treatment plan that works for you.

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